Monday, July 2, 2007

Movie Doodles: "Sicko"

I've been looking for a way to hate Michael Moore. The current trend is to write off anything he says as partisan hackery. Admitting to liking his movies is tantamount to acknowledging that you've turned your brain off (of course, this criticism usually comes from people who haven't actually seen a Moore movie since "Roger & Me").

After reading the negative review of "Sicko" by David Denby in The New Yorker, I knew I had my ticket. I was ready to hate the movie and redeem my credentials as a critical thinker. I did, after all, think that Moore was getting a little weaker with each film (with "Fahrenheit 9/11" resorting to grainy film noir slow motion to make sure we knew who the bad guys were).

And to be honest, there are already plenty of things I don't like about Michael Moore. I wouldn't want to have a beer with his disciples. I recognize that he has a big ego and even bigger savior complex. I know he's an intellectual one-trick pony ("the rich screw the poor"), which is both too obvious and too simple-minded (not to mention ironic since he lives on the Upper West Side). I think he's better at raising questions than answering them. And I think the way he shot and edited his ambush of Charlton Heston in "Bowling for Columbine" was on par with William Hurt's conjured tear in "Broadcast News."

I know all that, and for the first 15 minutes of "Sicko," my wish for license to rip the guy was on its way to being granted. The tone was off. He was overusing that technique of overlaying a sarcastic voiceover with cutesy music and 50s-era industrial footage (while talking about people dying).

But then something happened. The movie gained some footing and got genuinely interesting. In fact, while "F 9/11" benefited from Moore getting out of the way, "Sicko" actually gets stronger when he does enter the picture. By the end, I was left with no choice but to like the damn thing.

He's basically trying to make one point: If you're going to craft an effective and moral health care system in America, shouldn't it start with the idea that if an American is sick, he or she should be treated? Once you see mothers who've needlessly lost children, 9/11 rescuers who've been completely ignored, and poor people not only denied care at hospitals, but put into taxis and dropped off at rescue missions (still wearing their hospital gowns), it's awfully hard to take a moral position by saying, "No, Americans deserve the health care they can afford."

The truth is, Michael Moore is a satirical essayist who uses film to do what he does, and I'm sorry, but he's good at it.

But he only shows extremes to make his point.

Really? I'm shocked, shocked! that a satirist would exaggerate to illustrate a point.

But he hates America!

Are we so wimpy and thin-skinned that we can't be critical of ourselves? I don't parent my kid by praising everything he does. That would be mindless and stupid.

But he's really, really fat!

Yeah, he is. And celebate people teach about the morals of marriage and sexual behavior. Irony's a bitch.

I'll end with one thought that's actually worthy of its own post: accountability.

- In the American health care system, some insurance company medical directors (one is shown testifying to Congress in the film) are rewarded for achieving high denial-of-coverage rates. The ultimate reason is accountability to shareholders. The more "liabilities" you avoid, the more money the company saves, the more money you earn.

- In the British health care system, family doctors are rewarded based on the outcomes of their patients. If they get patients to stop smoking, for example, they get paid more.

Now you tell me, which version of "accountability" is healthier?

5 comments:

Stephen Dashboard said...

I'm reading Vonnegut's "A Man Without a Country" now -- dovetails nicely with this.

Vegas Gopher said...

Moore said he actually lost weight during the filming of this movie -- didn't you see him on Maher's season-ending show? He was the satellite guest. He said he started walking more and eating fruits and veggies, and he's probably down 50 lbs. Sure, that's the proverbial deck chair off the Queen Mary, but it's a start.

Ted said...

I agree with the concept of treating the sick but unfortunately I am a realist and paying for it is the real bitch. I think we need to start with everyone under the age of 18 being covered. I don't think a kid should have to suffer if their parent is either unable to or to lazy to get health coverage for them. It's not perfect but it's a start.

Bellamy Grant said...

That does sound like where you need to start. I had an interesting conversation, prompted by the movie, with an uncle who is an internist, AMA member and CEO of a hospital in the Twin Cities. Seems like the three things everyone can agree on are: 1) the system we have is not the most moral and humane; 2) if someone shows up to a hospital needing immediate treatment, they should be treated (which currently doesn't have to happen if the hospital does not receive federal funds); and 3) you can't give everyone everything, so let's start with a basic package, and let's cover kids.

It might be unavoidable that we have a tiered system, where everybody is entitled to x, but if you want more--if you want to make sure that you can receive that angioplasty even when you're over 70--you can opt out and pay more to have that coverage.

Stephen Dashboard said...

Just saw "Sicko" this weekend. I totally concur with you--I thought it was going to be a lame effort, but that "trip to Cuba" blew me away. Who knew? So, now what do we all do? Kick Nixon's corpse around? (wait, that's been done already) Take it in the backside like, since time immemorial?